HAMMOND — Not often during a season when Rayne won 30 of 32 games did it have to make up a double-digit deficit to emerge victorious.
With their season on the line, the Wolves did just that and will play for the school’s first state basketball championship in 26 years.
Sixth-seeded Rayne turned up its defensive pressure to start the third quarter, took a one-point lead heading into the fourth quarter and relied on late free-throw shooting for a 48-44 victory over second-seeded St. Michael the Archangel on Thursday in a Class 4A state semifinal at Southeastern Louisiana’s University Center.
“We were down by 15 to Scotlandville this year and came back and won by four, just like this game,” Rayne senior guard Charlesha Dugas said of the post-Christmas tournament at Northwest High. “We showed the same hustle. I knew I had to pick it up. I didn’t want this to be my last game.”
Because of Rayne’s resiliency, the Wolves (31-2) will get to play once more. They will take on No. 8 Ursuline Academy, a 58-50 winner over Karr, in Saturday’s Allstate Sugar Bowl/LHSAA Girls Top 28 Tournament championship game at 8 p.m.
Dugas was her team’s lone double-figures scorer, contributing 13 of her game-high 21 points during the second half. That total raised her school career scoring mark to 2,014 points.
Senior center Whitley Larry chipped in nine points, six rebounds and three blocked shots, while forward Amari Collins had a team-high 14 rebounds.
“I felt like I just got done playing,” Rayne coach Chester Randall said, adjusting his collar after the hard-fought victory. “The first half I didn’t find we played well, and my kids let the nerves get the best of them. We weren’t making plays. The things we normally do, we weren’t doing well.”
Dugas’ opening basket of the third quarter touched off a 9-0 run over the first four minutes, and Rayne went on to force St. Michael into nine of its 18 turnovers during that quarter.
Tajane Butler followed with four straight points, and Keysuana Moore took a pass from Larry and made a 3-pointer at the 3:58 mark, leaving Rayne with a one-point deficit at 29-28.
St. Michael (27-9) regrouped to maintain a six-point lead (36-30), but with Larry sidelined with four fouls, Rayne closed with six unanswered points for a 37-36 lead.
Dugas scored five and Ti’esha Young added a putback after four tries on the same possession, resulting in the Wolves’ first lead since the 2:42 mark of the first quarter.
The lead changed hands twice over a four-minute stretch of the final quarter and it was tied at 44 when St. Michael’s Jordan Schexnayder made a pair of free throws.
Dugas’ free throw with 1:20 remaining broke the tie and a combined three free throws from Butler and Dugas bolstered Rayne, which held St. Michael without a field goal over the last three minutes.
“Every time we had a chance to get together, I told them to calm down and watch the fouls,” Dugas said. “We wanted to finish this strong. I guess they took my advice.”